August 10, 2005

THEIR QUARREL IS ULTIMATELY A RATIONALIST ONE WITH GOD'S IMPERFECTION:

Divine Evolution (Frederick Turner, 08/10/2005, Tech Central Station)

One important question remains relatively unexplored. Indeed, the value of the debate may be precisely the raising of such questions. The question is this: if, in the opinion of many of the wisest thinkers on the issue, there is no contradiction between the idea of a creative divinity and the theory of evolution, how can this be so? If evolution, as 99% at least of all scientists who have studied biology agree, is quite capable of producing all the lifeforms of the world without outside intervention in the process, what need is there for God?

The awkward issue here is what some cosmologists call the "goldilocks" problem. The initial parameters of the universe -- the speed of light, Planck's constant, the number of families of quarks, the electron volt constant, Avogadro's number, the gravitational constant, the rate of curvature of the universe, the strength of the weak and strong nuclear forces, etc, etc -- had to be "just right" for the universe to have produced life and minds. If, like the porridge or the beds of the three bears, the universe is too hot or too cold, too big or too small, we would not be here to observe it.

William Paley argued for divine design on the analogy that if you found a pocket watch on the heath, you would assume that it had been made by someone, rather than that it self-assembled. It now turns out that even complex structures such as the eye and the flagellum and the protein machines of our bodies can all be produced by self-assembly, given time, variation, selection, the marvelous versatility of the genome and proteome, and the interaction of genome with environment in embryonic and fetal development.

Paley was wrong in his analogy, because there was a process that could explain the complexity and functionality. But if the true analogy of the watch is not the eye or the flagellum, but the initial parameters of the universe itself, all packed into the atom-sized singularity of the first moment of the Big Bang, perfectly and uniquely fitted to produce orchids and finches and sperm whales and human beings after 13 billion years, one begins to wonder. Doesn't that look a heck of a lot like design? Some cosmological physicists, in an attempt to avoid the question, now postulate an enormous number of different universes being produced at random by the big bang, nearly all of which wouldn't be fitted to produce life and mind, and the fact that we are aboard this one, which is so fitted, is not so strange. But this explanation violates the philosophical principle of Occam's razor, which is that one shouldn't make one's explanation wildly more complicated and inexplicable than what one is trying to explain. Why should the big bang be perfectly fitted to produce trillions of universes, one of which was bound to produce life? If there were trillions of big bangs, just one of which could produce universes, one of which could produce life, the same problem arises. Turtles all the way down. An uncreated creator is simpler at least, and it is not intellectual suicide to postulate one.

This is the problem for anti-design thinkers: though evolution, once it is set in motion, mightn't require further design, design certainly looks like the least implausible explanation for the beginning of the process itself.

But the theological problem for the Intelligent Design advocate is just as awkward. What would we say about a creator who started a universe with the evident intention of producing life and intelligence, but who needed to step in every few billion years, or every few seconds, to fix the process, rewrite the program, give the actors new lines, touch up the brushstrokes of the painting, seize the conductor's baton and introduce a new melody? Wouldn't we say that such a creator was an incompetent artist, that if he knew what he was doing he wouldn't be botching it up all the time and having to come in to shore up the building or fire a midcourse correction burn?

A perfect creator would surely have no need to step in once the process was going.


Setting aside the falsity of the assertion that evolution can account for all life in the absence of intervention, a Creator so imperfect that He has to intervene and make midcourse corrections would, not surprisingly, look something like this one:
1: Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?

2: And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden:

3: But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.

4: And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die:

5: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.

6: And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.

7: And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.

8: And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God amongst the trees of the garden.

9: And the LORD God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou?

10: And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.

11: And he said, Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat?

12: And the man said, The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.

13: And the LORD God said unto the woman, What is this that thou hast done? And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.

14: And the LORD God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life:

15: And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.

16: Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.

17: And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life;

18: Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field;

19: In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.

20: And Adam called his wife's name Eve; because she was the mother of all living.

21: Unto Adam also and to his wife did the LORD God make coats of skins, and clothed them.

22: And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever:

23: Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 10, 2005 11:58 AM
Comments

One important question remains relatively unexplored. Indeed, the value of the debate may be precisely the raising of such questions. The question is this: if, in the opinion of many of the wisest thinkers on the issue, there is no contradiction between the idea of a creative divinity and the theory of evolution, how can this be so? If evolution, as 99% at least of all scientists who have studied biology agree, is quite capable of producing all the lifeforms of the world without outside intervention in the process, what need is there for God?

Because science can't explain where evolution came from.

You might as well ask "If Newton's Laws explain the behavior of physical bodies, what need is there for God?" But Newton doesn't explain where natural law came from.

Basically, from a theist's point of view, evolution is the best explanation we can make for how God built the universe to run. Some people find the elegance of the whole thing to be a convincing argument for the existence of a Designer; others don't. Science doesn't, and can't, say anything about it. (Some scientists, like Mayr, get confused about this too, but then scientists don't usually take much philosophy.)

Now, please, stop playing with things like ontology that you clearly don't understand. You'll put your eye out or something.

Posted by: Charlie (Colorado) at August 10, 2005 12:22 PM

Once scientists start arguing from imperfection, they've left the realm of science and entered theology/metaphysics. Not too many recognize that, and the ease to which the debate enters those grounds should be ringing alarm bells. But as Orrin (and William Provine and Phil Johnson) notes, the debate *really is* about metaphysics, it's just most people don't see it or won't admit it.

Posted by: Bruce Cleaver at August 10, 2005 12:41 PM

The tweaker god to which Orrin's Biblical quote refers is a psychological necessity for most believers, because:

1. The Universe is obviously fallen (screwed up).

2. God coundn't have intended to create a fallen universe, because that would make him either incompetent or really, really mean. We're counting on Him being neither of these. We'll take the blame for screwing the universe up just so that we don't have the face either of these conclusions.

3. If God doesn't/won't act to unscrew the world, then there is noone to answer our prayers. That would really, really suck.

The purpose of Theology is to prove that the purpose and destiny of the Universe aligns with human goals.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at August 10, 2005 4:25 PM

Wow, Robert. Your caricature of "believers" is as far from anything remotely approaching recognizable in reality as any ever drawn here by Harry. Congratulations! Seriously, you must have friends and neighbors who are "believers". Why don't you get a bit more realistic image from them of their views of the world?

One could quite easily take your #2 and draw a one step caricature of atheists: God coundn't have intended to create a fallen universe, because that would make him either incompetent or really, really mean. We're counting on Him being neither of these. Therefore He must not exist.

Posted by: b at August 10, 2005 4:37 PM

Robert:

The more interesting thing is that your faith forbids design and tweaking, even though it obviously occurs somehow.

Posted by: oj at August 10, 2005 4:48 PM

For a physicist, Orrin is a really good blogger.

Noel

Posted by: Noel Erinjeri at August 10, 2005 5:35 PM

Oh come on, b. Robert is simply pointing out that theologians have never been able to find a solution to the Problem of Evil.

At least, not one they will accept.

If you're going to invoke Ockham, then the solution is simple enough: god is not good. But that is unacceptable to the believers that Robert writes of.

God's love is not obvious, which you would think it might be, which is why religionists (and not only Christians) have to keep reminding themselves to pretend to believe that it exists.

A mother's love is obvious. That could be a standard for you guys to cultivate your erring god toward.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at August 10, 2005 5:45 PM

Harry,

A mother's love is obvious. A father's love is much less obvious, but no less real.

Posted by: Brandon at August 10, 2005 7:17 PM

Neither they nor you have a solution to the problem of evil, Harry. For those who place their faith in Jehovah, the problem manifests itself as in the recent tsunami: how could a loving God allow this? For those who place their faith in men or man's systems, it manifests itself as in a Stalin, someone who makes a great pile of skulls simply because he can and because it suits his interests. I'll venture to predict that we haven't seen either the last tsunami, or the last Stalin.

Posted by: joe shropshire at August 10, 2005 7:47 PM

A loving God allows tsunamis, tornadoes, Stalin, the Holocaust, breaking dams, child molesters, birth defects, Vlad the Impaler, and so on and so forth, because GOD DOES NOT HAVE A TERRESTRIAL, CARNAL PERSPECTIVE.

What seems terribly important to humans, seems quite transitory to God, and even a good learning experience.

Orrin has posted many times about why God had to experience being a human, as Christ, and Orrin is also willing to call God insane, which of course She is, by human standards.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at August 10, 2005 8:32 PM

Harry:

Evil is only a problem for rationalists, who believe they could design a world that wouldn't have it.

No one who values their own humanity would choose to live in a world devoid of the free will that makes that humanity possible.

Darwinism has been exterminationist and eugenic precisely because imperfection is an offense to Reason.

Posted by: oj at August 10, 2005 9:35 PM

Job 2:10 But he said unto her, Thou speakest as one of the foolish women speaketh. What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil? In all this did not Job sin with his lips.

Isa 45:7 I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these [things].

Amo 3:6 Shall a trumpet be blown in the city, and the people not be afraid? shall there be evil in a city, and the LORD hath not done [it]?

Lam 3:38 Out of the mouth of the most High proceedeth not evil and good?

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at August 10, 2005 9:47 PM

Ps.148: 7-13

Praise the LORD from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps,
fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command!
Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars!
Beasts and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds!
Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth!
Young men and maidens together, old men and children!
Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at August 10, 2005 9:52 PM

Robert:

Don't forget this one:

Proverbs 16:4 - "The Lord has made all things for himself, even the wicked for the day of disaster".

Posted by: jim hamlen at August 10, 2005 10:08 PM

Jim: Thanks. I will add it to my collection.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at August 10, 2005 11:03 PM

What problem of evil?

Posted by: Harry Eagar at August 10, 2005 11:11 PM

The one that has you losing sleep, and worrying about your daughter-in-law. If your choice is between conceding a minor point to one of us and pretending not to love your family, it's OK to go ahead and concede the point.

Posted by: joe shropshire at August 10, 2005 11:56 PM

"Any deity worthy of a graven image can cobble up a working universe complete with fake fossils in under a week - hey, if you're not omnipotent, there's no real point in being a god. But to start with a big ball of elementary particles and end up with the duckbill platypus without constant twiddling requires a degree of subtlety and the ability to Think Things Through: exactly the qualities I'm looking for when I'm shopping for a Supreme Being."
-- Lee DeRaud

Posted by: Bill Woods at August 11, 2005 1:51 AM

Robert said, "The purpose of Theology is to prove that the purpose and destiny of the Universe aligns with human goals."

Oxford says, "Theology is the study of the nature of God and religious belief."

Robert, it's not Christians who have a problem with evil; they know that all men have fallen short of their Creator. Indeed, the universe seems based on the principle of equal and opposite.

God has given us all life and a few chosen ones faith. If you don't have faith, at least muster the humility to thank Him for your life (which you did not give yourself).

Posted by: Randall Voth at August 11, 2005 7:51 AM

Man is fallen. The universe is just the universe: G-d saw it, and it was good.

Posted by: David Cohen at August 11, 2005 9:16 AM

I'm thankful for my life every day. If I knew who to deliver that message to, I would - beyond my mother and father, that is.

My smarmy post above is, of course, referencing the doctrine of Original Sin. Now the question I have is, if Christians can accept a non-literal interpretation of Genesis that includes biological evolution, then the doctrine of Original Sin pretty much falls by the wayside. To what historic act do you now ascribe the Fall? If you accept the Designer paradigm, then our fallen natures are part of the design - Original Sin is baked in according to specs. Without the Fall, there is no need for the blood sacrifice of Jesus to balance the cosmic books. How do Christians reconcile these two concepts, evolution and Original Sin? I am curious.

Michael has explained my philosophy quite nicely. If God does exist, his perfection is not our perfection, His good not ours, His purposes not our purposes. Whatever his purpose for creating this universe, it wasn't to give us immortality or to make us comfortable. At least we're here. My question to Randall is, can you be thankful for just being alive, without the promise of an afterlife?

Posted by: Robert Duquette at August 11, 2005 9:34 AM

Genesis is evolutionary.

Posted by: oj at August 11, 2005 9:40 AM

Robert: Now that's a fascinating question. If the Fall is metaphor, what lies behind it. Knowledge of some sort, apparently. Sometimes I think that man's sin was learning to read, but that doesn't quite fit. What is the snake and what role does Eve play? Saying that it must have to do with sex seems too obvious and too Freudian. Changing from hunting/gathering to agriculture is a possibility, but doesn't work with being in the garden and then tossed out.

It has something to do with trying to make ourselves like G-d while failing to comprehend the ramifications, but what exactly is it?

Posted by: David Cohen at August 11, 2005 10:07 AM

Which is why God tosses us before we eat of the Tree of Life, at which point we'd have had the power of gods--eternal life and the capacity for knowledge--but without the wisdom required of gods.

Posted by: oj at August 11, 2005 10:17 AM

Yeah, it's fascinating that, given the choice, we chose Knowledge rather than Life.

Posted by: David Cohen at August 11, 2005 11:29 AM

What good would immortality be to an idiot?

Posted by: oj at August 11, 2005 11:32 AM

Depends on how much the idiot likes beer.

Posted by: joe shropshire at August 11, 2005 12:07 PM

It was the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Once we came to learn the difference, we were no longer innocent, like animals. Eden represents the blissful innocence of ignorance. We evolved out of that ignorance.

OJ, you haven't answered my question, or perhaps there is a Catholic out there who can. How does the Vatican explain the origin of Original Sin if the Genesis account is metaphorical? Why was Jesus's sacrifice still necessary if Original Sin were not an act of Man against God's original plan, but an intentional design "feature" of Man?

Posted by: Robert Duquette at August 11, 2005 12:14 PM

It's not metaphorical.

Posted by: oj at August 11, 2005 12:49 PM

Robert: As in all things, google is your friend:

http://www.catholic.com/library/adam_eve_and_evolution.asp

Posted by: b at August 11, 2005 1:15 PM

Thanks B. Here is the money quote:

For the faithful cannot embrace that opinion which maintains either that after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parents of all, or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents. Now, it is in no way apparent how such an opinion can be reconciled that which the sources of revealed truth and the documents of the teaching authority of the Church proposed with regard to original sin which proceeds from a sin actually committed by an individual Adam in which through generation is passed onto all and is in everyone as his own" (Humani Generis 37).

The story of the creation and fall of man is a true one, even if not written entirely according to modern literary techniques. The Catechism states, "The account of the fall in Genesis 3 uses figurative language, but affirms a primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man. Revelation gives us the certainty of faith that the whole of human history is marked by the original fault freely committed by our first parents" (CCC 390).

They have to defend this doctrine. Without it there is no Christianity.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at August 11, 2005 2:37 PM

They have to defend this doctrine. Without it there is no Christianity.

That's a bit of a stretch.

Mormon doctrine is thus:

Eternal beings ensoul carnal beings, in order to experience the freedom to decide between good and evil, and to experience the consequences of evil choices, both those made by the individual herself and those made by others.
The ultimate goal is to gain the wisdom of which Orrin speaks, en route to becoming adult eternal beings like our universe's God. (Although not all eternal beings will ultimately reach the level of skill/talent/wisdom/knowledge of God - some will just be joe shropshire's eternal beer-drinkers, a Valhalla kind of afterlife, where things are great, but not splendid).

However, God cannot stand the presence of those who sin, so the sacrifice of Christ was necessary to avoid having an eternal estrangement between God and his children.

Essentially, terrestrial human life is the adolescent phase of eternal life, with God being a very stern father, and Christ playing a maternal role, interceding for us, tempering much-deserved justice with mercy.

The "original sin" was therefore agreeing to become human, and to even have the capacity to contemplate committing evil.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at August 11, 2005 5:00 PM

Robert:

Without it there's no humankind.

Posted by: oj at August 11, 2005 5:14 PM

Robert asked, "My question to Randall is, can you be thankful for just being alive, without the promise of an afterlife?"

As I said, faith is a gift and only given to the chosen. I can't tell God what to do, so I am thankful for my life and try to live it according to His precepts. There is an afterlife. Whether I will be sitting with God at His table is up to Him.

As John Calvin wrote in Book 2 Ch 9 of "Institutes" -- 'Hence it is that he indeed dwells in our hearts and yet we are as pilgrims in regard to him, because “we walk by faith, not by sight,” (2 Cor. 5:6, 7).'

Original Sin is an explanation of an observable fact: we are all sinners.

Maybe it would help for you to ask yourself why God would create a robot when He was seeking company? I believe that God is actually surprised by humans. He is no different than we are. We walk into a room and make some friends. We make some enemies. We love. We hate. We are indifferent.

But, to design such a system that would produce creative humans capable of choice, the consequence is that only a few are interesting to Him and the others are not.

Sin has absolutely nothing to do with whom He chooses. King David was a murderer. His choice seems based on His own interest. He likes this guy and He doesn't like that guy. That is why sin was covered by His own sacrifice. He made it possible to accept those He likes into His presence.

Posted by: Randall Voth at August 11, 2005 7:32 PM

You cannot have free will and original sin at the same time.

It is simple to see why.

If you have a series of opportunties to sin, S1, S1 . . ., and at each opportunity you have free will to choose not to sin, then you could end up without ever sinning.

But that contradicts Original Sin.

The doctrine of Fallen Man is, I suppose, the nuttiest religious idea anyone ever had, after the one about Trinitarians being monotheists.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at August 11, 2005 10:53 PM

Harry:

Yes, had Man never sinned he'd not have Fallen. He'd also not have been Man.

Posted by: oj at August 11, 2005 11:16 PM

“I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me,” (Ps. 51:5)

Original Sin as a doctrine was only established to weed out heretics like Harry (who, good for him, seems more than capable of weeding himself out). It was not important until Pelagius tried to push his point.

The life of Jesus explains the possibility Harry's concept. However, Jesus was not corrupted from the womb, as we were, for he was not conceived as we were.

Regardless, it is not our sin that ultimately keeps us from God because sin has been covered from foundation of the earth. That God gives faith to those he chooses and not to others -- that is the most difficult concept in the Bible, but it is also God's most human characteristic and is why I can accept God.

Posted by: Randall Voth at August 12, 2005 12:56 AM

Christ sinned on the Cross.

Posted by: oj at August 12, 2005 6:48 AM

I don't really understand your point, oj -- unless you mean he sinned when he bore our sins... but that goes against the Old Testament concept of a sacrifice "without blemish." (Eze 43:25)

"For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin." (Heb 4:15)

"So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation." (Heb 9:28)

Posted by: Randall Voth at August 12, 2005 7:08 AM

Randall:

And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?

Matthew 27:46

Posted by: oj at August 12, 2005 8:12 AM

You mean what Jesus said was a sin?

Sorry, I must be dense. The concept of the scapegoat is well established in Leviticus 16:20-22: "...lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat... and the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a land not inhabited..."

Jesus bore our iniquities unto Hades where he stayed until the resurrection.

Nowhere have I ever found it suggested in the Bible that the scapegoat sins in the process.

Posted by: Randall Voth at August 12, 2005 9:09 AM

To despair of God is to sin. God didn't understand Man until the Cross, so of course the Old Testament has errors.

Posted by: oj at August 12, 2005 10:52 AM

Randall, don't tell ME about Original Sin.

Tell Orrin. His whole world revolves around it.

Fine. But you cannot have that and free will, too.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at August 12, 2005 4:54 PM

Harry -- I wasn't. Just saying that the doctrine is there so you don't think you're a Christian like Pelagius did.

OJ -- okay. I've never heard that kind of weird dispensationalism before (and I've heard a lot). But even the New Testament states that the lamb was slain from the foundation of the earth. (Mt 25:34, Re 13:8, Re 17:8)

Regardless, I'm sure that God's grace is big enough to cover even our false doctrines, if he wants us in his presence.

Posted by: Randall Voth at August 12, 2005 7:47 PM

Harry:

You can't have it without.

Posted by: oj at August 12, 2005 7:48 PM
« WHAT MOTE?: | Main | WHERE ARE THE YOBS WHEN YOU NEED THEM?: »